All Style, No Substance

This entry is part 5 of 86 in the series Scrapworthy Lives Results

Each Wednesday, I write a post from my dissertation.

We live in a culture that focuses on the pretty. Fashion magazines are devoted to teaching us how to decorate our outside selves. Home improvement and decorating shows are devoted to teaching us how to beautify our homes.

And what about scrapbook magazines, idea books, and blogs? They focus more on substance, right? No, most are designed to showcase product. In other words, they are also devoted to teaching us how to make our scrapbook pages pretty. Yes, there are examples of industry workers working to encourage scrapbookers to focus on the story, but never forget that advertisers promoting product are not far behind.

Why does this matter? Well, as I have written before, the story (or journaling or the words) provides the context to the photographs.

What I found in my study is that many (often beginning) scrapbookers do not include much journaling at all on their layouts because they get so enamored with all the stickers, papers, and other embellishments the industry sells, that they do not yet see any or not much value in writing their story. Others do not know what to say in their journaling or are convinced that the photographs alone are all they need to include in order to record the memory. Other scholars find that scrapbookers report that without journaling, the scrapbooker finds their scrapbooks less meaningful (Goodsell and Seiter 2010; Kelley and Brown 2005). In Goodsell and Seiter’s (2010) study, they report that the woman at the center of their study increased the amount of journaling her scrapbooks contain as the years went by. I find a similar pattern, that the longer a person scrapbooks the more they journal and the greater importance they place on journaling. Regardless, even scrapbookers who see the value in journaling do not always provide much if any journaling on every scrapbook page. Scrapbookers often leave space to do journaling later, but they may not ever come back and fill in the space.

Why does this matter?

Well, few scrapbookers suggest that a photograph could stand on its own and tell a complete story without any words, despite the common saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The addition of journaling communicates which of those thousand words are relevant. Signorile (1987) argues that what happens is that not only is a picture worth a thousand words, but that a word, then, is worth a thousand pictures. Moreover, “[w]hat cannot be put into words will ultimately prove to be meaningless” (Signorile 1987:287). In other words, without the words, the pictures become meaningless and without the pictures, the words become meaningless. This line of thinking, then argues that memories require both words and images.

Journaling is important because without the words or the context, your photographs are going to end up in a yard sale, according to one industry worker. She has old family photographs that are not labeled and says they are completely meaningless to her because she does not even know who the people are in the photographs.

Do you want your scrapbooks to have substance? Well, then they have to contain words. You have to include the story. Without the story, the scrapbook is just style. I know it’s not easy. I struggle with journaling, too. Do you have any strategies to increase your journaling? Does the idea of writing your story make you not want to scrapbook? Comment below and join the conversation on facebook.


Goodsell, Todd L. and Liann Seiter. 2010. “Scrapbooking: Family Capital and the Construction of Family Discourse.” Bringham Young University.

Kelley, Ryan E. and Charles M. Brown. 2005. “Cutting Up with the Girls: A Sociological Study of a Women’s Scrapbooking Club.” in The Eastern Sociological Society. Washington, D.C.

Signorile, Vito. 1987. “Capitulating to Captions: The Verbal Transformation of Visual Images.” Human Studies 10(3-4):281-310.


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